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Funeral home sues for right to liquefy bodies

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The first U.S. funeral home to publicly offer a cremation alternative that dissolves bodies using lye and heat has filed a lawsuit seeking to block recent restrictions by Ohio regulators and alleging they don't have authority to stop it from using the procedure.

Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus is the only U.S. funeral business offering the process of alkaline hydrolysis, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

The state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors recently determined alkaline hydrolysis is not an acceptable way to dispose of bodies. That was the basis for an Ohio Department of Health memo last week instructing officials not to accept death certificates or issue burial transit permits if alkaline hydrolysis is used — essentially blocking the funeral process.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Franklin County against the directors of ODH and the funeral board asks the court for a temporary restraining order to block the enforcement of the health department memo. The funeral home argues Ohio law allows for loved ones or others to choose what happens to a person's body after he or she dies but doesn't give state agencies the right to authorize types of disposition.

The funeral directors board did not respond to a message Thursday, and the health department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The process of alkaline hydrolysis was developed for disposing animal carcasses and uses a solution of water and lye, high heat and intense pressure to destroy bodies in stainless-steel cylinders, leaving behind a strong-smelling, dark brown liquid. The remaining bone pieces can be ground into a powder and kept, similar to cremation.

Proponents praise the process as being more environmentally friendly than cremation, but some opponents question whether it's a safe disposal method.

ODH spokeswoman Jennifer House has said the department found the process doesn't pose a public health risk.

Edwards has used alkaline hydrolysis in about 19 cases since January 1 and had no problems with those death certificates or burial transit permits, according to the suit.

It alleges the restrictions by the board and ODH have kept the funeral home from using alkaline hydrolysis on a woman's remains, as requested by her husband. He indicated in an affidavit that he opposes burial and cremation and believes alkaline hydrolysis is the "most humane method."

According to WBNS in Columbus, Edwards Funeral Service said in a statement: "The decision to deny a temporary restraining order allows the state board of embalmers and funeral directors to strip the rights of disposition away from families."

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